Co-founder of firm behind Trump-Russia dossier to plead the Fifth

Jul 21, 2017 25

Glenn Simpson, whose Fusion GPS firm has been tied to anti-Trump efforts and pro-Russian lobbying, will not talk to lawmakers in response to a subpoena, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committe said Friday.

Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Dianne Feinstein, R-Calif., confirmed in a statement that they subpoenaed Simpson to appear before the committee Wednesday as part of a hearing about the influence of foreign lobbying in last year’s presidential election.

“Simpson’s attorney has asserted that his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to the subpoena,” Grassley and Feinstein said.

During the campaign, Fusion GPS contracted former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele to look into rumors about Trump’s financial and social connections in Russia. The resulting “dossier,” which was leaked to the media following Trump’s victory in November included a number of sordid allegations about the president’s sexual proclivities.

Last week, Fox News reported that Fusion GPS had ties to Russian efforts to undermine U.S. sanctions that were led by attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Veselnitskaya became the center of a political storm earlier this month after Donald Trump Jr. made public emails indicating that he had taken a meeting with her  on the promise of receiving damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Grassley and Feinstein also noted that both Trump Jr., who took a meeting with Veselnitskaya in June of last year, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who sat in on the meeting, had agreed to be interviewed by committee members and staff, but left open the possiblity that the pair would be subpoenaed.

Fusion GPS has said it had nothing to do with the Trump Jr.-Veselnitskaya meeting.

“Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it. Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is absolutely false,” the company said in a statement.

Spicer slams SNL sketches as 'stupid,' 'malicious'

Jul 21, 2017 29

Not funny.

That’s Sean Spicer’s verdict on much of “Saturday Night Live’s” relentless parody of his White House press secretary tenure, now that he’s stepping down.

“I think that there were parts of it that were funny, but there’s a lot of it that was over the line,” Spicer told Fox News’ “Hannity,” in an interview set to air Friday at 10 p.m. ET. “It wasn’t funny. It was stupid, or silly, or malicious.”

The White House announced Spicer’s resignation on Friday, a move that came as Anthony Scaramucci was tapped for communications director. Throughout his relatively brief tenure, Spicer has been skewered on “SNL,” portrayed by Melissa McCarthy as a short-fused and frustrated defender of President Trump.

Spicer told Fox News’ Sean Hannity “there were some skits on late night television that I did crack up at. So sometimes it can be funny, Some of the memes you have to crack up about.”

He added, “But sometimes it goes from funny to mean.”

Hawaii rolling out North Korea attack response plan

Jul 21, 2017 25

Emergency response officials in Hawaii do not want to be caught flat-footed if North Korea launches a missile attack – and are launching a campaign meant to inform, but not frighten, residents over how to prepare in case the rogue regime does the unthinkable.

“We do not want to cause any undue stress for the public,” Vern T. Miyagi, Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) administrator, said in a statement released ahead of Friday’s expected rollout.

While the threat of a ballistic missile from North Korea is assessed to be low, preparedness plans have been in development since December 2016.

U.S. intelligence officials now believe North Korea is capable of launching a missile 4,000 miles, which is within range of the Hawaiian islands and their 1.4 million residents.

Officials have likened the campaign to “active shooter” preparedness drills conducted in schools nationwide. They will reflect the current times and will not resemble the “duck and cover” drills students endured in the 1950s.

Miyagi tried to temper any panic by saying the government did not want to cause any “undue stress for the public,” but action was warranted since the North Korean nuclear capabilities are unclear.

“Whether it’s hurricane or tsunami, the same thing that we need to get out to the folks is that they need to have a plan,” he said.

The state could begin testing a new emergency siren as early as November. The tests will include the sounding of a normal siren followed by a second siren that would be used in the event of an attack.

The Pentagon needs to consider deploying new anti-ballistic missile systems and a defensive radar to Hawaii to protect against a growing threat from North Korea, the top U.S. military officer in the Pacific told Congress earlier this year.

“Kim Jong Un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion,” Adm. Harry Harris, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on April 26.

Harris added that he was not suggesting “we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii” at the moment. Currently, the U.S. has anti-missile interceptors at two bases in Alaska.

Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes Pyongyang’s July 4 missile test shows they “clearly” have the range but lack the accuracy to hit the United States.

“What the experts tell me is that the North Koreans have yet to demonstrate the capacity to do the guidance and control that would be required,” Selva told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week.

Accurate or not, the progress of their nuclear program has some state lawmakers on edge.

In April, the Hawaii House Public Safety Committee passed a resolution formally asking the state to modernize its disaster preparedness plan, including repairing and restocking fallout shelters.

The state last issued a Community Shelter Plan in 1985.

“We’ve had wake-up calls before but what happened on July 3 is shaking us out of bed,” state Rep. Gene Ward told Reuters after the latest missile test. 

Ward, a Republican, recently suggested using old military bunkers located beneath Diamond Head Crater as fallout shelters, but HEMA officials dismissed the idea.

State emergency officials have argued against updating shelters since residents would have a limited window to find shelter once a missile had been launched.

“What’s going to happen is you’re going to hear the sirens. You’re going to hear what goes off on the radio and on your smart phone, and you’ve got just a few minutes to protect yourself. There’s no time to be looking at a map or even driving a block. You need to take shelter right now,” Toby Clairmont, executive officer for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, told KHON-2 TV.

He advised most Hawaiians to shelter in place, preferably in a concrete building. 

Spicer says Trump didn't want him to quit, but 'too many cooks' at White House

Jul 21, 2017 20

Outgoing White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Friday that President Trump did not want him to resign but Spicer felt there were “too many cooks in the kitchen” promoting the president’s message.

“I just thought it was in the best interest of our communications department, of our press organization, to not have too many cooks in the kitchen,” Spicer told Fox News’ Sean Hannity in an interview hours after he resigned from the White House on Friday.

Spicer quit in apparent protest after Trump tapped Anthony Scaramucci as White House communications director. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was promoted Friday to replace Spicer.

” … my decision was to recommend to the president that I give Anthony and Sarah a clean slate to start from.”

– Sean Spicer

“He wanted to bring some new folks in to help rev up the communications operation, and after reflection, my decision was to recommend to the president that I give Anthony and Sarah a clean slate to start from,” Spicer told Hannity.

WATCH SPICER AND PRIEBUS WITH SEAN HANNITY AT 10 P.M. EST TONIGHT.

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus also spoke to Hannity about the shakeup, saying Spicer is leaving on good terms.

“Sean leaving doesn’t mean that Sean isn’t going to be out there supporting President Trump and it doesn’t mean that President Trump isn’t going to be out there supporting Sean Spicer,” Priebus said.

Priebus added, “I’ve seen how the world around the president works and it’s very healthy and he cares about his people.”

Spicer’s departure marks the end of a rocky tenure in which the president’s top spokesman at times struggled to keep pace with Trump’s sometimes-chaotic leadership style — and a swirl of controversies.

During the 2016 election cycle, Spicer was the chief strategist and communications director of the Republican National Committee. He later came to the White House along with Priebus, the former RNC chairman who is now Trump’s chief of staff.

Spicer hasn’t had the rosiest relationship with the media since joining the White House. He’s clashed with reporters over “fake news” and said repeatedly the president was fed up with news reports that were “patently false.”

In February, he came under fire for barring reporters from several media outlets from participating in a scheduled press briefing.

His prickly relationship with the press was widely mocked on “Saturday Night Live” with Melissa McCarthy playing Spicer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Trump makes ready for his attack on Mueller

Jul 21, 2017 28

**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.**

On the roster: Trump makes ready for his attack on Mueller – Power Play: Your forecast? Delicious bacon – Trump officials now back findings on Russia – Ryan sells tax reform while on the road – There’s stiff coffee and then there’s stiff coffee…

TRUMP MAKES READY FOR HIS ATTACK ON MUELLER  
The story of most outsider presidents who come to Washington is one of learning the ways of the capital and governance and, as part of that, broadening out an inner circle to include more seasoned advisors.

Maybe not surprisingly, President Trump is going a different way.

With the departure of Press Secretary Sean Spicer, we see the strongest evidence yet of the shift to a war footing in the White House as the besieged president surrounds himself with hometown loyalists for what he clearly expects to be a struggle to remain in power.

The elevation of Trump loyalist and Wall Street insider Anthony Scaramucci to the top message man for the White House is further proof that the new focus isn’t about winning the Washington game but rather survival.

It also tells us what’s likely to happen next. 

The competing voices inside the president’s inner circle, and maybe within the president’s own mind, have been whether or not to go to war with special counsel Robert Mueller

This is something of a predictable moment since, as we said when Mueller was appointed back in May that it would be hard to imagine a figure who would perturb Trump more than the patrician Boy Scout Mueller.

If you will excuse us for quoting ourselves: “If [James Comey] got Trump’s goat, Mueller will get the whole pasture.” 

Trump and his team have flirted from time to time since then with the idea of waging open war against Mueller, even as most prominent Republicans praise the former FBI director and say that he and his team should be allowed to finish their work. 

But as we have also talked about in the context of Trump and the Russia matter, as recently as in regard to his attack this week on his own attorney general, Trump seems to believe that other people think and function as he does. 

The basic thesis of Trumpism is that the system is rigged and that Trump can effectively exploit that corruption for the people of the United States as he did for himself personally in his business career. 

If you looked at the world like that, you’d assume then that Mueller – from his Bronze Star as a marine in Vietnam, across his decades of service, through his appointment by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as FBI director and now as the finder of fact in the Russia probe – is a big fat phony. 

Mueller is exactly the kind of WASP blue blood who Trump has loved taking on and tearing down throughout his life. And now, Mr. Prep-School Prefect is rooting around through Trump’s tax returns and business records. 

We won’t waste a lot of time talking about if Trump did fire Mueller, or take steps causing Mueller to be fired. To say that it would close the door to a successful presidency is no overstatement. The second firing of the person in charge of an investigation into your own campaign is a very guilty-seeming act. Doing it to a person who is as esteemed and trusted as Mueller would bring the house down. 

The option short of a bloodbath at the Justice Department, however, is to do what Bill Clinton did when he was similarly under siege 20 years ago, and seek to discredit Mueller. Trump is working right out of the Clinton playbook as he tries to turn Mueller into a 21st century Ken Starr.

Certainly, for the 27 percent of voters in this week’s Fox News poll who said that they strongly support Trump, attacking Mueller in advance of any findings will help inoculate the president when the evidential findings to come. 

And for surviving the scandal, it may be Trump’s only remaining hope. 

Keeping core Trump supporters on board as bad news comes in requires doing just what Trump is doing: Attack the process as corrupt, attack the reporters covering the story and attack the prosecutor on the case. 

For the persuadable members of the other 73 percent of the electorate, though, the question becomes whether Trump is a victim fighting against an unfair system or simply a guilty man taking desperate steps to save his own skin. Is Trump Richard Kimble or Dudley Smith?

THE RULEBOOK: ALL DRESSED UP 
“What degree of agency these reputed lawgivers might have in their respective establishments, or how far they might be clothed with the legitimate authority of the people, cannot in every instance be ascertained.” – James MadisonFederalist No. 38

TIME OUT: JUST A TAD
The Atlantic: “On its own, this feature seems doomed to mechanical failure. But the risk is worthwhile to facilitate the toaster’s star ability: the ‘A Bit More’ button. That modest attribute offers a lesson for design of all stripes… The button also makes toasting bread, normally a quantitative act, more qualitative. The lever dials in numerical levels of browning, and the ‘A Bit More’ button cuts it with you-know-what-I-mean ambiguity. That dance between numbers and feelings apologizes even for a slightly over-browned slice of toast by endearing the eater to the result the button helped produce. … It highlights an obvious but still unseen problem with electric toasters, devices that have been around for more than a century. And then it solves that problem in an elegant way that is also delightful to use. It’s just the kind of solution that designers desperately hope to replicate, and users hope to discover in ordinary products.” 

Flag on the play? – Email us at
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with
your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump net job-approval rating: -17.2 points
Change from one week ago: -1.4 points

POWER PLAY: YOUR FORECAST? DELICIOUS BACON 
We have a rookie and a vet in this week’s weekly news and trivia quiz. Chris Stirewalt welcomes our Fox News colleague Griff Jenkins for his first time and the return of FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten. Which player will know who was president when an American last walked on the moon? Play along! WATCH HERE

TRUMP OFFICIALS NOW BACK FINDINGS ON RUSSIA 
The Hill: “Top homeland security and intelligence officials in President Trump‘s administration have thrown their support behind the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign, breaking from the president’s own wariness to endorse the findings. At the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado on Thursday, Thomas Bossert, the president’s homeland security adviser, said there was no question that Russia had meddled in the 2016 election in comments reported by USA Today. ‘There is a pretty clear and easy answer to that and that is yes,’ Bossert said when asked if he backed the conclusion from U.S. intelligence agencies. … President Trump’s CIA Director Mike Pompeo joined Bossert, asserting that Russia had involved itself in several U.S. elections. ‘Of course,’ Pompeo said Thursday when asked if Russia interfered. ‘And the one before that, and the one before that. (Russia) has no intention of backing off.’”

Putin’s hackers under attack from Microsoft – Daily Beast: “Last year attorneys for the software maker quietly sued the hacker group known as Fancy Bear in a federal court outside Washington DC, accusing it of computer intrusion, cybersquatting, and infringing on Microsoft’s trademarks.  The action, though, is not about dragging the hackers into court. The lawsuit is a tool for Microsoft to target what it calls ‘the most vulnerable point’ in Fancy Bear’s espionage operations: the command-and-control servers the hackers use to covertly direct malware on victim computers.”

Congress likely to tie Trump’s hands on Russia sanctions – Politico: “Senior Republican lawmakers and aides gave their clearest comments … Thursday that the bill would ultimately move forward without changes sought by the White House, potentially undermining Trump’s ability to warm relations with Moscow. The Senate already passed the bill on a 98-2 vote. And while it’s stalled in the House amid partisan finger-pointing, most Republicans are joining Democrats to support adding new sanctions while curbing Trump’s power to roll back the penalties against Russia.”

Special counsel investigating possible money laundering by Manafort – WSJ: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating possible money laundering by Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, as part of his criminal investigation into what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Kremlin-backed campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, according to a person familiar with the matter.”

Sessions won’t resign for now, but gets Trump’s message – 
Politico: “…the president was sending a message, said a Trump adviser who talked with him after the interview — making a deliberate effort to convey his lingering displeasure with his attorney general [Jeff Sessions], who recused himself in March from the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. “He didn’t just do that randomly,” the adviser said of the president.”

Report: Spokesman for Trump’s legal team resigns – 
Politico: “The spokesman for President Donald Trump’s legal team has resigned within two months of being on the job, according to people familiar with the matter. Mark Corallo, the spokesman, had grown frustrated with the operation and the warring factions and lawyers, these people said. Corallo also was concerned about whether he was being told the truth about various matters, one of these people said.”

RYAN SELLS TAX REFORM WHILE ON THE ROAD 
Boston Globe: “US House Speaker Paul D. Ryan pitched the outlines of his tax reform package at a sneaker factory Thursday, promising congressional Republicans are more united on that issue than over their ailing health care plan. Addressing local business leaders and New Balance factory workers, Ryan said a simplified, streamlined tax code would goose the national economy, encouraging employers who have sent jobs overseas to bring them home. The Wisconsin Republican said the tax rates for all employers should come down from roughly 35 percent to closer to the average across the rest of the industrialized world of 22.5 percent. He said he wanted to eliminate loopholes and, for individual taxes, cut rates and consolidate deductions. … Still, contending that the current political climate offered a ‘once-in-a-generation moment,’ Ryan vowed, ‘We’re going to get this done in 2017.’”

Under fire for opposing health bill, Mike Lee hits back – Politico: “Mike Lee hears the chorus of critics, with blame from the establishment wing of the GOP cascading on the Utah senator for being the Republican that stopped Obamacare repeal. And he’s ready to respond. In an interview in his Capitol Hill office Thursday, Lee said he was willing to be the lone senator to bring down his party’s health care bill because it did not do much to stop Obamacare in its tracks. ‘I’m not being an absolutist,’ he said, adding that he didn’t need 100 percent of the law to be repealed. ‘I’m a little frustrated by some who are eager and willing to call me out for saying this doesn’t go far enough in doing what we promised to do for seven years.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY 
DNC lags behind RNC in June, brings in $5.5 million – Free Beacon

Rumored DNC motto ripped straight from Papa John’s Pizza – WashEx

Trump Picks Richard Grenell for U.S. Ambassador to Germany – NYT

Ralph Peters writes about the everyday patriotism of John McCain – NY Post

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY
This Sunday, Chris Wallace will have Sens. John Thune R-SD., and Ben Cardin D-Md., to discuss passing the GOP healthcare bill. Watch “Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace” Check local listings for broadcast times in your area.

#mediabuzz – Host Howard Kurtz has the latest take on the week’s media coverage. Watch #mediabuzz Sundays at 11 a.m. ET.

AUDIBLE: LOWKEY
“Let me put it this way, I’m glad that Trump is drawing all the fire so I can get stuff done.” – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson in an interview with the Wash Ex.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I totally understand your arguments about the investigation. Here is the problem. What is the crime we are investigating? What Statute? … There are no parameters in this investigation. I say again, what is the crime? Jeff Sessions can recuse himself all he wants but he is in charge of the AG department budget, so he would well be in his right to ask what is the crime? What are we spending millions investigating? I think that is what frustrates the President.” – Doreen HowardNewmarket, N.H.

[Ed. note: It is not illegal, Ms. Howard, to eat maple syrup on your cod cakes or put thumb tacks on your bed. There are lots of things that are not illegal that are still not good to do. The special counsel is investigating what Kremlin agents did to influence the 2016 election, and whether any Americans helped them do it. That focus has fallen to Trump’s campaign. Those who suggest that the national-security investigation be suspended because of a technicality – that colluding with a hostile foreign power to interfere with an American election – isn’t a black-letter crime seem to express little confidence in the innocence of their president.]

“Why would Russia want Trump in the White House?  Above all else, they want the president to be predictable.  Hillary is predictable; not only that, Russia knows they could walk all over her.  Trump is a wild card; unpredictable and uncontrollable.  It doesn’t make sense that Russia would help Trump win the presidency. I don’t hear anybody asking that question.” – Tom Kilian, Burtrum, Minn.

[Ed. note: The conclusion of the intelligence community, even now under the Trump administration, is that Russian operatives did, in fact, mean to harm Clinton and help Trump. Now, it is possible that they did not expect their efforts to be successful, thinking they would be left with a weakened Hillary. Some of what Trump has done has been more helpful to Moscow than the stated policies of his 2016 opponent. But, some of it has been harsher toward the Kremlin than Clinton might have been. With Clinton, the Russians suspected they’d see a continuation and probably a toughening on the U.S. line against Moscow, but with Trump had plenty of reason to hope that he would favor a thaw. Time will tell if whether they made a good bet or a bad one.]

“Are there polling data available for just those directly affected by the proposed changes in ACA, excluding those on Medicaid, Medicare or having employer-paid insurance? It doesn’t seem possible to present an accurate picture of the impact of Republican Healthcare efforts if those not impacted are included in the polls.” – Peter Booth, Atlanta

[Ed. note: Well, Mr. Booth, that wouldn’t be exactly cricket. After all, the beneficiaries are not the only ones involved. Taxpayers are certainly involved. Everyone with private insurance who sees changes to markets and regulations is certainly involved. Every employee and employer is involved, since the way health insurance is provided is so central to America’s working life. Plus, what about those who aren’t enrolled in an ObamaCare program this year, but might be next year? That is a long way of saying no issue touches more Americans more intimately than that of health insurance and health care.]

“Thank you so much for that ‘trail note’ link.  I swear that that final line in that article brought a tear to my eye.  Senator McCain is a ‘hero’ like no other.  He is a ‘patriot’ and a ‘true American’ who puts the welfare of others ahead of his own.  I will truly ‘never’ forgive our ‘current president’ for his cold/callous and inaccurate words during the campaign in reference to his perception that Senator McCain was no hero. Don’t get me wrong, I voted for Mr. Trump – as the alternative was way too dire to even contemplate. But, I have NO RESPECT for any human being who can be so callous and cold and disrespectful in regard to others – especially extraordinary worthy Americans such as John McCain.  I still, to this day, wish with all my heart that Mr. Trump would ‘take those words back’ in a sincere and heartfelt apology.” – Susan St. Onge, Nashua, N.H.

[Ed. note: One of the tests for our words in this life is to consider how we would feel if they were our last to someone else. Different seasons of life call for different responses and attitudes, so we are not able to always be tender, but when we think about how we wish to be received and heard, sometimes it helps to think about the lasting legacy our remarks might leave.]

“Mind your manners, peasant! Address his royal highness as King George! I kid; but what are your top 4 favorite ‘King’ George Strait tunes? You gave great Tom Petty recommendations, try your hand at this impossible task! Did Dana make you include this?” – Jack Whiteman, St. Louis 

[Ed. note: I will confess that Strait has never been exactly my particular can of Copenhagen, which is why I found the piece so great. I personally believe that “country-Western” is a misnomer. Texas swing and good Hillbilly music are both enjoyable but have about as little in common as KISS and Bob Seeger. The piece gave me a new appreciation for Strait who, if anyones does, bridges the gap between two disparate genres. His workmanlike style and approach to his music added greatly to my admiration.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at 
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

THERE’S STIFF COFFEE AND THEN THERE’S STIFF COFFEE…
USA Today: “A Texas company issued a voluntary recall after a substance similar to one used in Viagra was found in its coffee, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration notice. Bestherbs Coffee LLC issued a recall of New of Kopi Jantan Tradisional Natural Herbs Coffee after FDA testing found the presence of desmethyl carbodenafil, according to the FDA. ‘Desmethyl carbodenafil is structurally similar to sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, an FDA-approved prescription drug for erectile dysfunction,’ the FDA said in a statement. The product also contained undeclared milk, according to the FDA. While the New of Kopi Jantan Tradisional Natural Herbs Coffee is marketed as a male enhancement product, the desmethyl carbodenafil could interact with nitrates in some prescription drugs and possibly lower blood pressure to dangerous levels, the FDA said in a statement.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“Look, Trump is completely unconventional. We knew that coming in. But there’s a reason for the conventions. And that is you so undercut an underling that he can’t really function effectively, and that’s what’s just happened now.” – Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily Fox News Halftime Report political news note and co-hosts the hit podcast, Perino & Stirewalt: I’ll Tell You What. He also is the host of Power Play, a feature video series on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on network programs, including America’s Newsroom, Special Report with Bret Baier and Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. He also provides expert political analysis for FNC’s coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.

Susan Rice meets with Senate Intel staff on Capitol Hill

Jul 21, 2017 23

Former national security adviser Susan Rice met privately Friday with Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, Fox News has learned – in one of several Capitol Hill sessions involving Obama administration officials.

A closed-door session with Rice had been expected earlier this week on the House side, but ended up being pushed off. It remains unclear whether Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., or any other senators were present for Friday’s meeting.

Some lawmakers have made clear they want to hear more from Obama administration officials, especially Rice, over their potential role in “unmasking” the identities of Trump associates from intelligence reports last year.

Rice has come under fire for her alleged role. Congressional investigators have issued subpoenas to the NSA, CIA and FBI seeking “unmasking” information related to three individuals: Rice, former CIA Director John Brennan and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

Rice initially told PBS’ Judy Woodruff in March that she “knew nothing” about the unmasking of Trump associates. But weeks later on MSNBC, she admitted she sometimes sought out the identities of Trump associates who communicated with foreigners, a request known as “unmasking” in the intelligence community.

But “I leaked nothing to nobody,” Rice told MSNBC, a reference to media reports detailing, among other conversations, those between then-national security adviser Michel Flynn and Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Reports of those conversations led to Flynn’s resignation in February.

In an interview with New York Magazine published earlier this week, Rice suggested that her race and gender may be playing a role in the controversy. 

Power, too, has agreed to testify before the House intelligence committee as part of its Russia probe, Fox News has learned.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper already appeared before both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on Monday. 

All sessions with former Obama administration officials are set to be closed, according to sources on Capitol Hill.

Fox News’ Chad Pergram contributed to this report. 

Rubio: Iran must face 'consequences' if it does not return ex-FBI agent Bob Levinson

Jul 21, 2017 15

The future of U.S. relations with Iran hinges on Tehran coming clean about the whereabouts of a former FBI agent who vanished a decade ago in the Islamic republic, Sen. Marco Rubio told Fox News.

Robert “Bob” Levinson disappeared in 2007 from Iran’s Kish Island, where the retired FBI agent had traveled on an unauthorized mission to recruit an intelligence source for the CIA. With the exception of a proof-of-life video in late 2010, there has been no credible sighting of Levinson or confirmation of who, specifically, is holding him and why. Iranian leaders deny knowing his whereabouts – a claim U.S. officials categorically reject.

“Bob Levinson went missing because of the Iranian regime,” Rubio, R-Fla., said Friday. “I believe with all my heart they know where he is, they know what’s happened to him and we should hold them completely and entirely responsible for his fate, his whereabouts and the outcome of this.”

“It should influence everything we do with Iran moving forward,” Rubio said. “How this case is handled up to this point and from this point forward will in many ways determine U.S. policy towards Iran.”

Rubio, who among several other lawmakers has been closely involved with the case — Levinson is from Coral Springs, Fla. – said it’s not known whether he is still alive but said U.S. officials should be operating as if he is. Levinson’s wife, Christine, told Fox News in April the FBI believes her husband is alive – a theory that, if true, makes Levinson the longest-held hostage in American history.

“I certainly believe that everything we do – whether it’s pressure on Iran, outreach to Iran or working through third parties – should all be predicated on the assumption that he is alive and that his return to his family is still possible,” said Rubio, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Rubio said there were “a lot of missed opportunities in the past” at bringing Levinson home, though he did not fault the previous administration, acknowledging the complexity of a case spanning a decade. He stressed that Iran should face “consequences” if it continues to evade questions about Levinson’s whereabouts.

“What those are, obviously the administration will make a determination,” he said.

Levinson, a father of seven and 20-year veteran of the FBI, traveled to Kish Island on March 8, 2007, on a 24-hour rogue assignment. He was last seen leaving the Hotel Miriam on the island and getting into a taxi for the airport. Iranian state-run television reported at the time that Levinson was in the hands of Iranian security forces – but no group officially claimed responsibility for taking him.

On Thursday, Levinson’s family met with State Department officials in Washington to discuss efforts to locate him, according to The Associated Press, which cited an unnamed U.S. official. The source – who spoke on condition of anonymity – told the AP many U.S. government officials believe Levinson is no longer alive. A State Department official was not immediately available for comment when contacted Friday.

The reported meeting follows a July 11 letter from U.S. lawmakers, spearheaded by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., to President Trump, calling on the administration to “re-engage” with the Islamic Republic over Levinson’s whereabouts.

“Bob’s return is an urgent humanitarian issue,” the letter reads. “It is critical that the United States maintain pressure on Iran to see that he is returned as soon as possible.”

“Bob has suffered long enough,” the lawmakers said. “We must never rest until he is returned to his family. We owe them nothing less.” 

Cristina Corbin is a Fox News reporter based in New York. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaCorbin.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders named new White House press secretary: Who is she?

Jul 21, 2017 19

Sarah Huckabee Sanders was named the new White House press secretary Friday afternoon following the resignation of Sean Spicer.

Spicer resigned Friday after President Donald Trump appointed New York financier Anthony Scaramucci to communications director. In a tweet, Spicer said he would continue in his role until August.

Sanders, as Spicer’s deputy, had recently taken more of a prominent role in the White House communications as she took over the daily briefings and turned them into off-camera events.Scaramucci told reporters Friday that Trump thought Sanders does a “phenomenal job.”

It was Sanders, too, who stood behind the briefing room lectern on what was one of the Trump administration’s biggest news day – the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS NAMED NEW WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY 

At 34 years old, Sanders – the daughter of former GOP presidential contender and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – has been involved in politics most of her life. She spent her teens in the governor’s mansion in Little Rock before attending Ouachita Baptist University, a private liberal arts school in southwest Arkansas.

Sanders has worked on multiple Republican campaigns – aside from her father’s own.

She worked on former President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004, acted as a senior advisor to Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s Senate bid and managed other Arkansas Sen. John Boozman’s bid for the Senate.

When asked about a possible promotion to the press secretary position in May, Huckabee insisted that his daughter “likes what she is doing.”

WHO IS SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS?

“She really, really likes [Spicer] and respects him a lot and really enjoys working with him and has no desire to take the job that he has,” Huckabee said then.

He also credited Sanders’ brothers for helping her with her poise behind the briefing room lectern.

“She grew up pretty doggone tough. She had to, as a matter of survival,” Huckabee said. “She’s got a very sweet heart, but she’s tough, and she can handle herself. She’s had to take all kinds of gruff from her brothers, so she’s pretty fearless.”

Sanders married Bryan Sanders in 2010, and the two have three children. 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders replaces Spicer as White House press secretary

Jul 21, 2017 19

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will replace Sean Spicer as White House press secretary, it was announced Friday.

The announcement was made in the press briefing room by Anthony Scaramucci, who was named White House communications director Friday.

Spicer resigned Friday.

Sanders most recently served as deputy press secretary, increasingly filling in for Spicer during on-camera and off-camera briefings recently.

The daughter of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Sanders managed her father’s presidential campaign in 2016 before joining Trump’s.
 

Trump not asking about who he can pardon in Russia case, source says

Jul 21, 2017 18

President Trump has had no discussions with his legal team about the prospect of pardons in connection with the Russia case, a source close to Trump’s legal team told Fox News Friday. 

“There is nothing to discuss,” the source said. “The President has the plenary power of pardon. He can pardon whomever he likes.”

The Washington Post reported late Thursday that Trump’s lawyers were exploring ways to undercut special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during last year’s presidential race. One of the report’s sources told the paper that Trump had asked his attorneys about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself. 

However, the source insisted that Trump has not discussed the issue of pardons with his legal team. 

The source also denied a New York Times report that Trump’s lawyers and aides were investigating the background of investigators hired by Mueller in the hope of discrediting the Russia probe. In an interview with the Times earlier this week, Trump said Mueller and his staff had “many other conflicts [of interest] that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”

Attorney Jay Sekulow, a member of the president’s external legal team, told The Associated Press Thursday that the lawyers “will consistently evaluate the issue of conflicts and raise them in the appropriate venue.”

The source told Fox News that the president’s legal team “has tremendous respect for Bob Mueller” and claimed that the two sides “have been working well together.”

Fox News’ John Roberts and the Associated Press contributed to this report.